A Brief History of Wine in Calaveras

In 1851 was the start of commercial winemaking in Calaveras.1,000 vines where planted in the lower Calaveras River area, these were in all likely hood Mission grapes.

In 1857 on Calaveritas Creek at the Beatty ranch, several varieties were planted. All vines were from the eastern United States not European varieties. With in the next couple of years several new plantings where under taken with European varieties. There even was a grape vine nursery established outside San Andreas, called Murray Creek Nursery.

Other plantings at about this time, where in Mokelumne Hill at Sandy Gulch and Chili Gulch.Seven thousand pounds of grapes, with the majority going to wine production. Wines were served at the Union Hotel in Mokelumne Hill.In the late 1850’s large numbers of settlers were arriving in the area. They brought with them the knowledge on grape cultivation and winemaking. Also came the custom of wine being a part of every day living. Others areas establishing vineyards and orchards at this time, were in Salt Springs,where a W.D. Allen boasted 500 acres of vines and trees. Upper Calaveritas River and Esperanza Ranch grew 8,000 vines.

In 1870 Victor Portron fermented 2,000 gallons of wine for purchasing. Around Murphy’s were the San Domingo and Hahn Ranch(Stevenot and Vogliotti Ranch’s). In 1869 John Heinsdoff of Murphy’s was awarded best red wine at the State Fair. By 1870 Calaveras was the fourth largest wine producer in the state at 100,500 gals and 116 winemakers.

An Italian immigrant Angelo Sciaccaluga established a winery in Vallecito named Pyson, his home town in Italy. An interesting feature at the winery was he ran well water on both sides of the winery. This cooled the cellar, along with maintaining a better humidity. You can still see the winery on the north side of Hwy 4 across from Coppermine Wines. By the 1890’s Calaveras dropped from 4th place to seventh in the state, however large wineries still existed in Mokelumne Hill,San Antonio and Vallecito. In Mokelumne Hill two wineries were producing 17,000 gallons per year.

During prohibition acreage increased to 445 acres, due to the demand for home wine makes and sacramental wines. After prohibition acreage fell as did production, possibly due to over supply of grapes now.

Modern wine making in Calaveras started in the 1970’s with the opening of Chispa Winery, which became Black Sheep and is now Val du Vino. Also in the seventies Barden Stevenot bought the Shaw Ranch on San Domingo rd., were he planted vines and opened a winery. Growth moved along slowly at first then picked up rapidly in the early 2000’s. At present thee is about 900 acres planted with 28 wineries producing wine from almost 40 varieties grown in Calaveras presently.

Murphy’s and surround area has become a major draw for people looking for a great wine experience, along with trying more obscure varieties.